Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'm Smart When It Counts

These people think I'm stupid... hey, I'm smart when it counts!

Get a load of this clever location where I put my food dish! (And, dad asked mom if she put my food dish in the middle of the walk way for some reason... snicker-snicker!)

It wasn't easy either - that bowl does not slide well on carpet!


Monday, April 26, 2010

The Birdess Book of World Records

It would seem that my mom was trying to float a rumor yesterday about me attempting to 'wake the dead' with my afternoon vocalizations. As you might imagine, I have a few comments in this regard. I cleverly usurped the keyboard while she was in the kitchen refilling her glass of tawney port wine. (She said something about her ears still ringing from yesterday. Does wine reduce ear ringing? Just checking....)

First, I think she quickly forgets how loudly I am actually able to scream. Did she think that was it? I was only at about 80% of capacity! There's always room for more screaming and more chewing!

Second, it would seem she was unaware that I had secretly applied (thus, the 'secret' part) to the Birdess Book of World Records. If ever I was going to memorialize my place of importance in the Birdess Book of World Records, screaming seemed to be like falling off a branch... rather easy for me! I've fallen off this one a number of times!
Yes, I understand she was trying to take a Sunday afternoon nap. Don't think she didn't tell me that more times in 5 minutes than I can drop a toy. However, you must understand that she takes a nap every Sunday. How many naps a week does a human actually need? If she went to bed at sunset like I do, she'd have a lot more energy and not need so many naps!

(Oh, I could also give her some diet advice, but I'll save that for another blog entry.)

And in all honesty, I wasn't even going for the loudest scream birdie record (do you think I should give that one a shot?). I was going for the record of longest scream session.

There was a slight hiccup in the process of attempting to break the record: The Society actually has rules to follow if you want to qualify. Really cramped my style a bit.

This is going to come as a big surprise to all of you, but I can have some trouble with rules from time to time. My mom raised me to be an independent thinker and to be empowered to make my own choices. (She did not raise me to be a diva... I managed that all on my own!)

It would seem there is no category for "free-style" screaming. Some of the Committee's expectations:

1. No bashing toys during any of the screaming. C'mon now.... I can hardly be expected to get through an afternoon without beating a toy to a pulp, now can I?
Screaming and bashing toys really does go hand in hand. It must have been one of the bourke committee members that made up this rule. From what I can tell, they don't even like toys!

2. One is required to stay perch-side. This may come as a surprise, but due to my mom's failure to provide me with ballet lessons as a chick, I'm not the most graceful amazon around. Sometimes I just walk across my fort - and - well, next thing I know I'm on the floor heading for the ladder.
If you want my opinion, the one thing Fort Coco is missing is a good slide. I could simply slide down and then climb up the ladder. I've got wings, but sliding is so much more fun!3. I'm not sure which avian on the rules committee came up with this one - but they require that you not intimidate any other household animals while attempting to break the record. I know two macaws on the committee, and they would never vote against intimidation!In my defense, I was not completely clear on what qualified as intimidation. It would seem looking upon Barney with disgust and disdain was regarded as an attempt to intimidate.

Puh-leeze... if I wanted to intimidate him I would have backed his little brindled-behind up against the wall and given him a free manicure.
Look at those nails... and I'd like a chance to remove those basset hound spots from his arms!

So - the good news? They are letting me try to break the record again next Sunday afternoon! Woo-hoo!!!!

Do you think they might give me bonus points if I waited until dad and Barney were sleeping too?



Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Trip to Whizzney World!

What's more exciting than a peanut butter rawhide?

Why - of course - it's a trip to "Whizzney World"!

Also known as the North Carolina Arboretum, it is a beautiful and relaxing place any time of year.A trip to the arboretum always makes for a great time.Especially in the spring and summer when a variety of beautiful flowers are in bloom, and the springs are flowing free.I hope you enjoy the photos - naturally, they do not do it justice!

Let's go, let's go, let's go!!!

The quilt garden:

The bonsai exhibit - the photos below represent only a small fraction of the trees:

I especially love the flowers and water features:

Yep, we had a great time....
and got home just in time for a nap!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Using Sign Language

I have written a number of posts on body language and the importance of understanding, interpreting and responding to the body language of our unique birds. Each bird is unique, even within the same species. Naturally, no one can definitively state and guarantee that all body language means the same things in all birds and in all circumstances. Thus the benefit, and absolute necessity, of learning the body language of each of our individual birds becomes immediately clear.

Although Coco is quite free in expressing herself through a wide variety of body language expressions, in addition there are certain words and phrase patterns that I believe she has learned to use to prompt the humans around her to action in much the same way our dogs learn that certain vocal patterns when matched with certain visual cues or actions on our part have specific meanings. However, this is not 100% for her. For example, she routinely says bye-bye when my husband enters the room while we are spending private time. However, she also says it at times, and in manners, that seem out of context to me. For example, when I am cleaning the budgie fort and she is vocalizing to get my attention including saying 'bye-bye'. It is likely that this use of the phrase bye-bye is not an attempt to encourage me to leave the room, but simply a method to get a vocal response from me in turn.Since I have observed that the use of the phrase bye-bye does not appear to have a consistent meaning for her, I do not want to rely on it for a basis of communication or to dictate a response that I might provide. Ok, so that's out... I'm not going to teach her how to have lengthy conversations with me about her needs.

How then do we form a basis of communication when we do not share a common spoken language ?

ne option I use with Coco is the same skill I would employ if I were communicating with a deaf child - the Helen Keller method... sign language. The ability to create communication using sign/body as a base, is of immeasurable assistance.

How can this be accomplished?

Perhaps the single most important piece of body language that can be learned is the 'back off' language of a bird. However, a bird may use a variety of different body languages to express this, escalating all the way to biting, if needed, to get the point across.If we can create an environment where we teach the bird a 'sign' that means back off, we are well on our way to knowing when the bird wants us to do so. When the sign is displayed by the bird, we back off, the bird's need and desire was met, trust is gained, and the relationship is strengthened (or at least no blood is let!).

Before addressing an example of sign language used to indicate 'back off', I want to write about the sign language she has learned which means 'give me that' or - 'I want what you have'.

I began with teaching her a simple wave. Initially, she received a treat for picking up her foot slightly off the perch, and we worked toward her receiving the treat when she had her foot entirely in the air. She has since learned to even curl her toes as a human would curl their fingers. She also learned that when she performed this behavior, she received a treat. It did not take very much time before she began doing this behavior, uncued, because I had a treat she wanted. When I would reach for the treat jar, she would immediately perform the behavior whether or not cued. Now, if I walk into the room with a plate of food and she would like some, she will perform the behavior. However, she will also perform the behavior if I am wearing a shirt with big buttons that she would like to access, or if she would like me to come over to her. While she will perform the behavior by my asking "give me a wave", we have also come to mutually understand that her initiation of this behavior means that I have something she wants. Even if it is in a jar across the room. She wants me, what I am wearing, what I am eating, what I am holding, or what I have the potential to bring her.

While teaching a bird to wave is a cute trick, it begins to have meaning if we can use that behavior as a basis of a common language between human and companion.

The same applies if we were to give a bird a method of communicating 'back off' through the performance of a body language behavior. With Coco, I have used one of her innate behaviors to create the sign language for this desire. Whenever I am around her, if she begins to walk away from me, or turns her back on me, I immediately do the same. Mirroring body language has many benefits: see Birdie's Helen Keller Moment for a few more examples.

What Coco began to learn, and now knows well, is that if she wants me to move away she simply moves away from me or turns around. And I need to trust that if she performs these behaviors, she means them. And, I respond accordingly. Sometimes she changes her mind and high-tails it back towards me; I respond in kind by returning to her. In the beginning, each time she would turn her back on me or move away from me, I immediately responded, and it took little to no time at all before she realized we were forming a method of communication. I believe birds are far better students of body language than we could ever be!

When a bird has a sure-fire method of communicating its need for space, or desire to avoid interaction, it also has a means to meet its own needs without escalating to lunging or biting.

Back off, mom - this guy promised me a trip to see the queen!!!

We can think of many other scenarios where teaching sign language through the use of behaviors or even innate body language can work to create a common language. Instead of relying solely on learning their body language (while that is certainly essential and cannot be underestimated), taking steps to teach language and behaviors that communicate shared ideas creates the opportunity to expand the horizons of the relationship and add to the list of experiences that gain trust.